Cristiano Ronaldo walked off the field with the gleeful chants of "Messi, Messi, Messi!" ringing in his ears from delighted Al Hilal fans who had just watched their Saudi Pro League team beat the Portugal superstar's Al Nassr 3-0 in the Riyadh derby on Friday.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner may have finished on the losing team -- Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice after fellow Serbian Sergej Milinkovic-Savic opened for Al Hilal -- but Ronaldo still remains the focus of attention in Saudi Arabian soccer.
When the 38-year-old warmed up, there were cheers from the several thousand away fans, many of whom had No. 7 on their backs, and jeers from the masses of home supporters.
In the previous 14 games of the league season, the former Real Madrid and Manchester United forward had netted 15 goals to top the scoring charts and help Al Nassr -- who also feature former Liverpool star Sadio Mané, Croatia midfielder Marcelo Brozovic and ex-Manchester United defender Alex Telles -- move into second in the league behind Al Hilal.
"Cristiano is an example for everyone, an example that Al Nassr are lucky to have," Al Nassr coach Luis Castro said. "He is an example of rigor, ambition and discipline.
"Lots of people want to be like Cristiano Ronaldo but few want to work like Cristiano Ronaldo. If you want something you have to give everything to get it."
Ronaldo tried everything on Friday. In the second half with Al Nassr trailing by a solitary goal, he shot a fierce volley high into the net but it was marginally ruled out for offside. Soon after he rolled around the floor of the Al Hilal penalty area claiming that he had been elbowed.
When Mitrovic scored his first and Al Hilal's second late in the game, Ronaldo insisted that he had been fouled in the buildup.
Al Nassr coach Luis Castro really showed the referee his phone after Cristiano Ronaldo's goal to equalize the match against Al Hilal was disallowed after a VAR check 😅 pic.twitter.com/l2wbH29Cma— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 1, 2023
Al Hilal have their own superstar but a less influential one right now as Neymar, who signed from Paris Saint-Germain in August, suffered a serious injury while on international duty with Brazil in October.
On social media, Neymar posted good luck messages to his teammates, such as Mitrovic, midfielder Rúben Neves and defender Kalidou Koulibaly who all arrived in the summer as highly rated English Premier League players.
They joined several Saudi Arabian internationals in the team such as Salem Al-Dawsari and Saleh Al-Shehri, who scored against Lionel Messi's Argentina in Saudi Arabia's famous 2-1 win at the 2022 World Cup.
The derby defeat on Friday left Al Nassr seven points behind leader Al Hilal after 15 rounds. Ronaldo may have his work cut out to help his team win title No. 10 but, given his form so far this season, he may still have the last laugh with the Messi chants fading away.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.